The end of the 90-day legislative came and went without the traditional mad dash to the finish line. Perhaps it had something to do with the great weather down there but, really, the Legislature was never going to be done on time.
Despite all the best intentions and grandstanding, the politics of an election year combined with the tough decisions of the state’s budget crisis were never going to make for a fast resolution, and that’s not to mention the multiple vacancies and infighting that have slowed things down to a crawl.
Just 31 days left in the 121-day session.
The House and Senate worked through the weekend, but gone was the traditional urgency of the 90th day of the 90-day voter approved session (which was really gone last year, too). Both the floor sessions were adjourned by 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, having passed just a handful of bills each over the two days.
What’s notable is that the House spent most of the weekend on bills that aren’t even near the finish line, but House bills that will still have to work their way through the Senate before being sent to the governor’s desk. Some of the bills have Senate companions that have been moving through the process this session (like Rep. Drummond’s House Bill 316 to remove certain marijuana convictions from the state’s online court records that’s similar to a bill already in Senate Finance), but that will still require committee referrals and hearings that take time.
The Senate, meanwhile, passed mostly non-controversial House bills that extend various boards. In total, the Senate sent eight pieces of legislation to the governor’s desk (including Rep. Rauscher’s House Bill 6 to name the Jonesville Public Use Area in Sutton) while the House sent just one.
Committees met over the weekend, and the most action was in the Senate Finance Committee where multiple House bills–including House Bill 31 to improve Alaska’s woeful treatment of rape kits–were advanced out of committee.
The Legislature is now operating under the Alaska Constitution’s 121-day session (it’s 121 because it says “one hundred twenty consecutive calendar days from the date it convenes”), as its done for most of the recent years. The Legislature can continue 10 days past that deadline with a vote, and anything past that would require a special session called by either Gov. Bill Walker or the Legislature itself.
Most of the insider talk points to a resolution by day 110, but we’d take that with a grain of salt.
The Senate approved its operating budget on Thursday with a $1,600 PFD, which means the dividend won’t be one of the many items that the conference committee will be tasked with negotiating. Barring any swerves, the Legislature will send Gov. Bill Walker a budget with a $1,600 dividend.
Both the House and Senate had their members of the operating budget conference committee appointed by Friday afternoon. The House members include Reps. Paul Seaton, Neal Foster and Steve Thompson. The Senate members include Sens. Anna MacKinnon, Lyman Hoffman and Donny Olson. The appointment of the committee puts the Legislature into the 24-hour rule, which means that meetings can be noticed with just 24 hours of notice instead of a week ahead as it is earlier in the session.
The change is designed to allow the Legislature to move more quickly in the final days, but it makes the Legislature more difficult for the public to follow. That’s in large part because the 24-hour rule has effectively become the day-before rule with committees noticing morning meetings the evening before.
The conference committee had an organizational meeting on Saturday. The committee has no further meetings on the schedule at this point.
Both chambers passed differing visions for K-12 funding over the weekend.
The Senate passed its version of House Bill 287, the bill to early fund education, with flat funding for K-12 schools. The bill contains contingency language that would also fund the following year with a $30 million one-time increase (that roughly amounts to a $117 increase to the base student allocation formula) if some version of Senate Bill 26 is signed into law. Senate Bill 26 is the plan to implement a draw from the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve in state law.
The Legislature is currently planning on making a draw from the earnings reserve to pay for part of this year’s budget, but the House has refused to sign off on putting such a draw in state law without some other source of revenue.
Meanwhile, the House pushed ahead with its own school funding proposal with House Bill 339 that would increase the base student allocation by $100. It passed the House on Saturday on a 22-18 vote.
Busy Senate Judiciary
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which didn’t hold its first meeting until nearly a month into session, has a busy week ahead of it. It has five pieces of legislation scheduled today, including Rep. David Guttenberg’s HJR 21 that would tell the feds to respect Alaska’s legalized marijuana industry.
Education raffle has new life
Sen. Click Bishop’s Senate Bill 78, which would allow people to use their PFDs to buy into what’s essentially a 50-50 raffle to fund education, is on the House Finance Committee’s schedule today (it’s been scheduled a few times in the last week, but has yet to be heard). The bill essentially allows people to buy $100 raffle tickets with a portion going into a fund that would pay out cash prizes, but the majority going to education. If it gets traction, it’ll be one of the few new revenue sources to pass the Legislature this year.